Mental health

Why today’s youth is so anxious and judgmental

What’s not to like about a world in which youths are involved in fewer car accidents, drink less and wrestle with fewer unplanned pregnancies? Well, think about it. Those kids might not be wiser; they might simply be afraid of everything. And what has got them so afraid? A little glass rectangle, ‘a portal in their pockets’, that entices them into a world that’s ‘exciting, addictive, unstable and… unsuitable for children’. So far, so paranoid – and there’s a delicious tang of the documentary maker Adam Curtis about the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s extraordinarily outspoken and well-evidenced diatribe against the creators of smartphone culture. These men, says Haidt,  were once

‘Childhood has been rewired’: Professor Jonathan Haidt on how smartphones are damaging a generation

Something strange is happening with teenagers’ mental health. In Britain, the US, Australia and beyond, the same trend can be seen: around the middle of the last decade, the number of young people with anxiety, depression and even suicidal tendancies started to rise sharply. Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, noticed a change when students who were brought up with smartphones started to arrive on campus. They were angrier. More fragile. More likely to take offence. Social media, he concluded, was shaping their view that society is in permanent conflict, which in turn led to ideas about microaggressions and competitive victimhood. All this,

TikTok is giving our children Tourette’s

Shortly after the first Covid lockdown ended, doctors began to notice something so strange that at first they struggled to explain it. There appeared to be a sudden rise in the number of children being referred with Tourette’s syndrome. Tourette’s is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by repetitive, involuntary movements or sounds called ‘tics’. While mild tics are relatively common in children, specialists suddenly started seeing large numbers of children displaying complex and debilitating symptoms. Dr Alasdair Parker, president of the British Paediatric Neurology Association, said in 2021: ‘The most severe tics disorders I have seen over the past 20 years have all presented in the last five months to

Canada’s assisted dying horror story

My favourite Martin Amis novel was his 1991 book Time’s Arrow. It is a pyrotechnically brilliant work in which all time goes backwards. On publication it was criticised in some quarters because the novel includes a reverse version of the Holocaust and some thought Amis was using the Holocaust as a literary device. As so often, these transient critics didn’t get the point. It is hard to say anything new about the Holocaust or find any new angle on it. Europe, like Canada, does not believe in the death penalty for criminals. Only for victims But Amis managed, because towards the end of the novel (that is, at the beginning

Why modern life doesn’t make us happy

The greatest delusion ever sold to us by modern advertising is not that we need to buy water in bottles or that rocks make good pets. It’s the delusion that we should expect to be happy all the time. This idea certainly would have been news to our ancient ancestors. Over millions of years, they became the dominant hominid on the planet because their brains evolved to be survival machines, not happiness generators. The first peals of laughter around those early campfires were not because everyone was having a good time; laughter evolved as a social bonding signal to communicate to the rest of the tribe: ‘Phew, we’re safe now. Looks

Rishi Sunak needs to turn his attention to mental health

Will the government meet its NHS target? Health Secretary Steve Barclay was asked about this when he did the broadcast round this morning, arguing that even though there were record waiting numbers, the government had successfully reduced the longest waits. But as Fraser wrote this week in his Telegraph column, Rishi Sunak is having to face up to the chance that he might miss this (and most of his other) five ‘priorities’ which he said the British people should judge him against at the next election. But voters might be paying a little less attention to another area of care where things are visibly going backwards: mental health. When I

The midlife crisis spread: why are the affluent so depressed?

‘You are here’, as those signs in windswept carparks unhelpfully point out. Yup. No mistaking it, you will tend to think glumly as you look at them. I had the same feeling when I looked at a new report from no less an institution than America’s National Bureau of Economic Research. The report is called The Midlife Crisis. It tells us that in the western world, one’s forties and early fifties are associated with problems with sleep, clinical depression and suicidal thoughts, disabling headaches and dependence on alcohol, alongside a decline in basic measures of life satisfaction. Well, fancy. I don’t know about clinical depression and suicidal thoughts, I should

The changing language of ‘mental health’

It is easy to laugh at young people asking for sympathy because ‘I’ve got mental health’. I think I heard the journalist-turned-teacher Lucy Kellaway on the wireless recently noticing in a half-baffled way the tendency of pupils to call mental illness mental health. Mental health hasn’t quite achieved that meaning in standard speech, but it could. It is partly a matter of euphemism. Mad and madness are now hardly usable at all with reference to everyday circumstances, being reserved for different times and cultures, for King Nebuchadnezzar, King Lear or King George. A mental case is ‘increasingly avoided’, noted the Oxford English Dictionary in its 21st-century revision of entries that

How we fell for antidepressants

The French novelist, Michel Houellebecq, with his accustomed acuity about modern culture, titled his last novel but one Serotonin. By then, of course, this famous neurochemical had become the key to a perfect human existence, too little or too much of it resulting in all the little problems that continue to plague mankind. If only we could get the chemical balance in our brains right, all would be well, life would return to its normal bliss! After the commercialisation of Prozac, people started talking about the chemical balance in their brains in much the same way as they talked about the ingredients of a recipe. As Peter D. Kramer put

America has betrayed its young

Two articles last weekend made me feel sorry for American young people. We in the anti-woke brigade can be awfully hard on kids. But having been born in the 20th century turns out to have been a stroke of good fortune. On Sunday, the New York Times ran a feature about soaring mental illness in American teenagers. Between 2007 and 2018, suicide rates among people aged ten to 24 rose by 60 per cent. Between 2015 and 2019, prescriptions for antidepressants for teenagers rose 38 per cent. Between 2009 and 2019, emergency room visits for self-inflicted injuries among people aged ten to 19 doubled for both sexes; for girls, they

The truth about the anxiety epidemic

Knots in the stomach? An overwhelming sense of despair? Nervous, restless and tense? That’ll be the anxiety talking and for good reason. What with the financial crash, austerity, Brexit partisanship, climate change catastrophising, social media derangement, pandemic pandemonium and now the possibility of a third world war, I’d be concerned if we weren’t all feeling a tad anxious. Indeed NHS leaders are now urging ministers to tackle what they are calling a ‘second pandemic’ of depression, anxiety, psychosis and eating disorders, brought about by recent events. Indeed, one study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that diagnoses of anxiety had tripled in young adults since 2008. It’s right

Why legalising cannabis is safer than decriminalising it

I hate weed. Week after week, I see the tragic effects of this substance and how it destroys the minds of the young. I work on a mental health ward which, like many around the country, is home to some of the victims of our current lackadaisical attitude towards cannabis. This drug is particularly dangerous to the developing brains of young people and yet we know that this age group are the most likely to be experimenting with it. Despite protestations from the powerful pro–cannabis lobby, it has been proved beyond doubt that cannabis use is associated with depression, anxiety, psychosis and avolition (poor motivation). A third of psychosis cases

The debt I owe to cannabis

Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt have all admitted that they tried cannabis as young adults. Neither the admission nor the THC psychoactive component of the drug, which makes you high, seem to have done them much harm in their pathways to successful careers in parliament. But a new governmental war on drugs is afoot which some fear may lead to unexpected consequences, and not just for those who ply their trade on street corners or draw up on Deliveroo-type scooters to supply cannabis as if it were a takeaway curry. I wouldn’t bet on everyone getting caught up in judicial dragnets, though; I imagine that middle-class consumers will

Try forest bathing – by day and night – to ward off depression

Ever since a consensus emerged that trees and, by extension, their ecosystems, were both vastly interesting and badly threatened, great tottering logpiles of books about woods or individual tree species have seen the light of day. Of these books, one of the most influential has been The Hidden Life of Trees (2018), written by Peter Wohlleben, who for many years has looked after a forest in the Eifel mountains in Germany. I read that book with interest, and needed no persuading that woodland trees form, in effect, a community, both as a result of the scents they give off and the interactions between their roots underground. And the book contained

Simone Biles, Plutarch and an Olympic trial

The outstanding gymnast Simone Biles has pulled out of several Olympic events, saying: ‘I just don’t trust myself as much any more.’ Many took the view that this was a fashionable ‘mental health’ issue. Ancient Greeks might have come up with a rather different analysis. Plutarch (c. ad 100) is said to have been the author of a letter of condolence to one Apollonius whose son had just died. In it he considered how best one should react to loss in the context of the whole field of human suffering, which Greeks regarded as the common lot of all mankind. For example, Achilles in the Iliad claimed that Zeus possessed

Should Simone Biles listen to Novak Djokovic?

I’ve always been a Spectator reader, so I’m delighted to be writing a diary about the Olympics from Tokyo. My first experience of an Olympic Games was probably the most political of them all — Moscow 1980. I wasn’t sure that I would be competing until a few weeks before the opening ceremony. The build-up was fraught with geopolitical tensions — the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US-led boycott of the Games. Thatcher’s government fell in line with Uncle Sam — a little too eagerly — only to then lose its fight with the British Olympic Association. So we ended up going. I lost the first of my finals

The strange veneration of Simone Biles’s Olympic exit

An opinion columnist should have some self-awareness in life. When your job is to sit behind a laptop droning on about politics, for example, one should be very careful before casting aspersions on the mental and physical performance of one of the most decorated Olympians of all time. Simone Biles, who transcended poverty and abuse to become in all likelihood the greatest gymnast ever, with 19 gold medals in World Championships, clearly has nothing to prove when it comes to mental toughness and physical excellence. You can’t hurl yourself head over heels, through the stratosphere, in front of millions of viewers, without both — never mind doing it better than

Prince Harry could learn from Kate Middleton’s mental health work

I wonder if the royal family realise how lucky they are to have Kate? She may have been born a commoner, but she is proving herself to be the best asset the Firm have. As naff as this sounds, she comes across as actually caring and wanting to use her position of power and influence to do some good which is quite refreshing in today’s self-obsessed, navel-gazing world where those in the public eye only seem to care if there’s a long-lens camera trained on them while they do their good deeds. Along with William she has championed causes such as mental health which were profoundly uncool when they first

A matter of life or death: Should We Stay or Should We Go, by Lionel Shriver, reviewed

Leave or remain? That’s the question hanging like a cartoon sledgehammer over Lionel Shriver’s 17th novel. Although she makes merry with the parallels, her subject isn’t Brexit. It’s how long a person should choose to live. Should we allow ourselves to shamble, with gentle optimism, into decades when mental and physical decay are statistical probabilities? Or should we Take Back Control, and off ourselves before revolted strangers are required to wash our private parts at great cost to our struggling NHS? The characters Shriver charges with assessing the options are Cyril and Kay Wilkinson. We meet them in their early fifties as they return home after Kay’s father’s funeral. Slugging

Why I’ve gone off country sports

‘Oh, I do so love to see all the lovely pheasants running around the place,’ said the lady walking the Alsatian up the farm track. The huge dog was straining at the leash, pulling her along, but she was trying to stop for a chat with the builder boyfriend as he mended a fence. I came alongside them in my car as I arrived at the farm to ride Darcy. I got out and joined the tail end of the conversation, in which the builder b took it upon himself to explain to this sweet lady that the pheasants got shot. Look, he had to. She was under the impression